Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

Self-Care and Complementary and Alternative Medicine as Care for the Self: An Embodied Basis for Distinction

Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

Self-Care and Complementary and Alternative Medicine as Care for the Self: An Embodied Basis for Distinction

Article excerpt

There is growing realisation on the part of health researchers that informal lay self-care that takes place on a daily basis constitutes the dominant form of health care (Segall & Fries, 2011). Segall and Fries (2011, p. 254) describe self-care as 'the basic level of health care practiced by members of the public'. These authors draw upon Levin, Katz, and Holst (1976) to define self-care as 'a process by which the layperson functions on her own behalf to promote health, to prevent illness, and to detect and treat disease when it occurs' (Segall & Fries, 2011, p. 254). Through self-care, lay individuals are the primary provider of health care and, therefore, producers of health (Segall & Fries, 2011). Selfcare encompasses health-protective behaviours, utilisation of preventive medical services, symptom evaluation, various self-treatment practices, and interaction with the informal medical care sector (Dean, 1981 as cited in Segall & Fries, 2011). Thus, self-care includes a broad range of lay initiated behaviours, including consultation with a variety of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) providers.

Ziguras (2004, p. 10) argues that, 'because health researchers have "uncovered" the previously "hidden" realm of self-care practices of lay people, and because of the development of the more visible forms of self-care advice such as self-help groups and self-help books', the prominence of self-care is greater than ever before. Given that members of the lay community are active providers of health care, the many dimensions of self-care (Barofsky, 1978) need to be understood to gain a greater understanding of the factors that shape health (Segall & Fries, 2011). Unfortunately, there are gaps in this area of research and an incomplete understanding of the role self-care plays in the formation and maintenance of health lifestyles (Segall & Fries, 2011).

Segall and Fries (2011, p. 250) contend that 'The way many people think about health and illness today reflects a complex, holistic health model that is not solely reliant upon the expertise of biomedicine'. O'Sullivan and Stakelum (2004, p. 41) argue there has been move 'away from the biomedical paradigm and a move towards a more holistic one, which stresses the role of the self and lifestyle in the production and maintenance of one's health'. The use of CAM therapies is a key component of the selfcare model (Ziguras, 2004). This is evidenced by data showing that 20 per cent of Canadians consult CAM therapists and that the use of such therapies is increasing (Park, 2005). Social scientists do know how some aspects of social location influence the use of CAM, broadly defined:

specifically, women marginally outnumber men as users; usage peaks in the western part of North America; users are slightly more affluent, better educated, and have more chronic diseases than the population as a whole; and the use of CAM tends to be used as a supplement to biomedical health care rather than a substitute for it (Fries, 2009, p. 342).

However, the use of CAM as a form of self-care needs to be further researched in the context of lifestyle science and the co-production of health.

The context of self-care is consumer culture characterised by 'the several multi-billion- dollar industries that have an explicit body focus, such as diet programmes, fitness equipment and services, cosmetic surgeries, diet- and healthoriented foods, diets and health books and magazines, and the pervasive images of idealised bodies (both male and female) that are used to promote an even wider array of products and services' (Thompson & Hirschman, 1995, p. 139). In such a context, the manner in which people deploy products and services as self-care may serve as markers of identity. Due to cultural features attending development of postmodern societies of the West, self-care choices, connected as they are to the body, identity, and social location, may serve as the basis for what Holt (1997a, p. …

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